Some books sweep you away and the reasons you love them jump off the page. After reading The Good Earth, it’s hard to say what captured me. Of course, it is a classic. A Pulitzer Prize winner. The writing holds up. It is still rich, simple, and beautiful, with an effortless flow from beginning to end. However when I finished the book, I couldn’t say what the ‘It’ factor was that grabbed me.
There was no gush, no excitement, no explanation for why I wanted to read Sons (the second in the trilogy) or why in the billions of books we have to read I’d tell anyone to pick up The Good Earth and devote some hours. Aren’t our hours already in too much demand?
This led me back to reading attempt number one where I floundered not far past page one. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I remember the language feeling clunky and not being in the mood for Wang Lung or his wedding day so I switched to something I thought at the time less boring.
Attempt number two saw me from beginning to end in two days. Go figure. I couldn’t put the book down. I was drawn into Wang Lung’s excitement and his wedding day plans from page one. From there it was all about the possibility of Wang Lung losing his land that kept me glued to the page. (Glued, people. As in this book rated above coffee – even if it was only for a day.) I had to know if my jaded 21st century views would be validated. If Wang Lung would wake up and love O-Lan as much as I?
O-Lan is heart wrenching in her silence and her strength. Any woman who can have a baby, 100% alone, clean up after the birth, be back in the field that afternoon and cook dinner that evening, yeah, sign me up for hero worship.
There was beauty in the couple’s early years, in the celebration of the crops they worked so hard to tend, in the birth of their firstborn son, then the second and the third. I liked that while I never warmed to Wang Lung, I could respect his love for the land and hoped he’d appreciate the inner beauty of his wife. This carried me through the famine, their leaving to go to the South and the hardships they had.
I liked seeing this China from a poor farmer’s view. I fell too for the description of a way of life I’ll never know in a time space I’ll never see. The deep fly on the wall perspective added depth and a nostalgic nod to history that under normal non-fiction reading my eyes would gloss over. Yet with Wang Lung, I was there.
They say there are only 33 stories in the world and every book is a rehash of these. Pearl S. Buck not only managed to keep me guessing, waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, she did it with aplomb.